Is Your Midsize Business Ready to Change Before You Have To? Gearing Up for the New Marketing

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the sixth post in the series.

Very few marketers would deny that marketing is in the midst of a sea change. As we’ve been discussing throughout this series, many businesses are struggling to keep up in our increasingly connected world. This rise of social media, a growing avalanche of data, and 24/7 access to new channels and devices that customers can use to learn about, shop for and buy goods and services is radically and irreversibly changing the world of marketing and commerce.

Given this reality, the central question is whether your business is preparing to ride the new wave–or is in danger of getting caught up in the turbulent undertow? In other words, to quote former GE CEO Jack Welch, are you ready to “change before you have to”? And, just how feasible is it for a small or midsize business to get ahead of the curve?

IBM’s 2011 IBM CMO study, From Stretched to Strengthened, took an in-depth look at how 1,734 Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) (including a sample of midsize companies) are thinking about and dealing with these mega-changes.  It’s interesting to look at these results, and how one of the midsize companies that we spoke with recently is navigating through this transformation.

Top Market Forces and CMO Concerns and Readiness to Address Them

CMO study respondents of midsize companies are struggling with four major market forces: decreasing brand loyalty, the explosion of data, proliferation of channels and devices, and social media.

Unfortunately, change is difficult–and most CMOs feel ill-equipped to address these new requirements, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Percent of CMOs Reporting Underpreparedness

To me, this level of concern isn’t surprising. Social and technology changes are escalating at a breakneck pace, in an increasingly volatile world. Wrapping your head–let alone a marketing organization–around these rapid, often unpredictable changes isn’t for the faint of heart.

Charting a Course for Change

The good news is that the vast majority of CMOs see three key areas that they need to take action in to address theses challenges by:

  • Delivering value to empowered customers
  • Fostering lasting connections
  • Capturing value and measuring results

What does this really mean? Customers have always wanted companies to listen to them and to act on the input they provide. They’ve always wanted companies to value their time and their recommendations as well as their money. But today, technology gives customers better, faster access to information, people, products and services–giving them more control over the commerce process and enabling them to wield more influence with other buyers.

Customers increasingly expect anywhere, anytime, any-device access to information throughout the commerce cycle–from information gathering, evaluation and selection, to purchase and service. They expect vendors to do a better job of meeting–or even of anticipating–their needs. This means that vendors need to understand not only “the market” but individual customer requirements and preferences, and deliver solutions to attract, interact with, acquire and retain customers on a much more personal level.

In the digital age, this means that CMOs must develop automated processes to tap into multiple channels and customer touch points. And they need new analytics capabilities to gauge and tune marketing and commerce initiatives in an actionable way at a one-on-one level.

In a nutshell, CMOs and marketing organizations need to radically reinvent marketing with automated digital and analytical processes that help them to deliver more value to customers.

Taking a Proactive Approach

IBM’s study also revealed that CMOs in outperforming companies are more proactive than their peers in tackling these issues. These CMOs are investing now to better understand individual customers as well as markets, and using analytics to help them do a better job of zero in on customers’ needs to deliver a better experience and build customer loyalty.

For instance, CustomInk, a 300-employee custom t-shirt company, uses IBM Software for Enterprise Marketing Management, specifically IBM Coremetrics, to improve the customer experience and grow the business. CustomInk relies on a Coremetrics dashboard to monitor daily key performance indicators (KPIs), such as: What percentage of site visitors go to its Design Lab? How likely is a visitor to save a design? How do aesthetic changes improve conversion rates? CustomInk uses these metrics to determine what’s working and what isn’t. For example, if the percentage of customers who save a design is low, it may be because something is broken and the customer can’t load the design. Or there may be an overload of visitors from unqualified sources.

IBM software also provides CustomInk with the ability to monitor key paths through its site on a daily basis. This enables CustomInk to determine where people “fall off” on different paths. The company can see when changes it makes are beneficial, detrimental or neutral to customer behavior. For example, CustomInk has learned that small, aesthetic changes in color or type font, or changes in button styles or colors, can impact movement through the site and affect the drop-off rate.

Perspective

CustomInk drives home the point that a company doesn’t have to be part of the Fortune 500 to ride the waves that these social and technological changes are ushering in. In fact, because SMBs can often act in a more agile and nimble fashion than large companies, they may actually have an advantage over larger companies.

However, any business must start by making a conscious decision to transform their marketing team for this customer-centric world, and develop a strategy that revolves around customer engagement and interactions. Some key questions to get started include:

  • How can the business use customer interactions to better anticipate and respond to requirements, and improve the customer experience?
  • What are the different customer and prospect touch points in your organization, and how can they be strengthened?
  • Do we know where customers and prospects are talking about your products and services, competitive brands and related industry trends?
  • How do we best bring customer conversations into the company to help us better serve their needs?
  • How will we measure and analyze the results of what we’re doing?
  • How can we make the information and insights we get actionable?
  • What skills and solutions will we need to achieve our goals?

While each company will have different goals, metrics and requirements, one thing is crystal clear: the art and the science of marketing is undergoing a radical change. CMOs and marketing organizations need to take a proactive approach to use them to their advantage.

This is the sixth in a series of blogs by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about CMO perspectives on several issues, see the full results of IBM’s 2011 IBM CMO study, From Stretched to Strengthened.

 

 

Going Beyond Free Self-Service Trials: Raising the Bar in Cloud Computing?

Free trials have been a staple of cloud computing from the beginning. Almost every cloud–aka software-as-a-service–vendor offers free trials. Many vendors also give companies a free pass for the first user in perpetuity. For simple solutions–such as online storage or email marketing–free trials often do the trick. People take the solution for a spin, and see if does the job without sinking any money into it.

But for anything that involves more complexity in terms of business process or workflow, free trials often fail to seal the deal because they don’t adequately demonstrate value. Sometimes, it’s because the solution really isn’t a good fit, but other reasons often come into play, including when people:

  • Sign up for a free trial, but then never find the time to really try out the solution. This happens a lot in small businesses, where people are often wearing several hats and juggling priorities. It’s easy to forget that you’ve even signed up for one when the fire drill hits.
  • Start the trial and hit a glitch that stops them from going any further without a phone call or email–which once again, can easily get moved to the back burner as other priorities come into play.
  • See the potential value of the solution in the trial, but can’t or don’t have the time to configure it for their business and sell it to the decision-makers in the organization.

Basically, a free self-service trial eliminates the cost hurdle, but it doesn’t remove the time or knowledge hurdles from the conversion process.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been briefed by two very dynamic companies who are raising the bar in demonstrating value before the sale:

  • IGLOO helps companies move to a more open style of collaboration without abandoning existing email and personal productivity tools they already use. When visitors to IGLOO’s  site complete a short form requesting a free trial, IGLOO contacts the individual (often within minutes, at most 1 business day) to learn more about their requirements.  From there, IGLOO sets up a custom collaboration environment based on one of its 8 social business applications (each application is preconfigured, but also customizable for the user).  Then IGLOO gives the user a guided tour of this environment, sharing insights and best practices on everything from configuration to driving user adoption.
  • TrackVia’s premise is that “off-the-shelf” business solutions–whether packaged or cloud-based–are developed for the mass SMB market. Consequently, they often fail to hit the mark for individual companies. So TrackVia provides an alternative that lets business users to design, build and deploy their own custom cloud solutions–without technical or coding knowledge.  When visitors sign up for a free trial, they’re paired up with a specialist, who helps them get set up and start building their basic application at no charge. TrackVia partners companies that have larger, more complex enterprise-level applications with a TrackVia solution architect, who will help fully build out and customize the application. The goal is to give users a chance to fully assess whether or not TrackVia is a good fit for their business needs before they purchase it. On average, TrackVia users can build and deploy a fully functional and operational custom SaaS application in 7 days.

There are some differences in how these programs work, but same philosophy is in play. As new kids on the block, IGLOO and TrackVia don’t have the brand of marquee competitors–and need a stronger hook to get prospects to consider their offerings. Their hook is to work harder to prove the worth of their solutions upfront, before the customer plunks down any money.

Judging from my conversations with TrackVia and IGLOO–not to mention the growing roster of customer references on their web sites, this meritocracy approach is paying off–especially in the SMB market. One of them told me that while its larger rivals have created the market for the solution category, these rivals don’t follow up with many smaller prospects who express interest–let alone give them personalized presales help to get up and running. Essentially, this creates the perfect set up for these smaller, harder-working vendors to delight these frustrated prospects.

Of course, the big question is how scalable is this type of model? Vendors must invest considerably more time and resources earlier in the sales cycle, which translates into the need for higher conversion rates to paid customers.

But, when you think about it, prospects are also investing their own most precious commodity–time–in the process. This extra hand-holding also requires the user to commit to scheduling the time, working with a specialist and tailoring the solution to their meet their requirements. As a result, the solution should get a lot closer to meeting individual business needs from the start, which should help boost conversion rates. In addition, these vendors are moving the engagement from transaction to relationship status from the get-go, which should help increase retention as well.

Sounds like a pretty virtuous cycle for all involved.

Swimming with the Smarter Customer: The Speedo International Story

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, in partnership with Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

Recently, Brent Leary and I had the opportunity to talk with Gareth Beer, Ecommerce Manager for Speedo International and learn about how Speedo International is applying smarter commerce philosophies and solutions to better serve its customers. We think Beer’s insights about Speedo’s experience in this area illustrate how important it is for a company to start with a strong vision for delivering a great customer experience–and how to execute to make that vision a reality.

 Start with the Customer

Anyone that’s ever been near a pool let alone belonged to a swim team knows the iconic Speedo swimwear brand. But, we do need to supply a bit more background to put this post in context for our discussion.

Speedo International is a subsidiary of Pentland Brands with headquarters and about 200 employees based in Nottingham, UK, and operations around the globe and sales in 180 countries. Up until 2008, Speedo International had been a traditional wholesale business, with retailers serving as its sole sales outlet to customers. The company had no desire to compete with its retail partners, but consumers were clamoring for better access to the full range of Speedo products, in all sizes and colors–which they couldn’t always find in their local stores.

Bringing Speedo International online was an obvious solution to providing customers with better access, but Speedo faced a dilemma common to many companies in this position–the threat of potential channel conflict. But as Beer told us, “Speedo understands that many customers will use the site to search, browse and add to the cart and ultimately buy at a local store.” Speedo’s goal is to give customers a place to search, browse and find information–and then purchase the product wherever they choose.

Zero in on Objectives

In line with these goals, Speedo International needed to create a site with detailed photos, images, descriptions, fitting guides, FAQs and videos of all Speedo products; the ability to purchase; and customer feedback mechanisms. Speedo had a jump-start because Pentland, its parent company, was already running IBM WebSphere Commerce for all of its companies, making this platform the natural choice for Speedo.

So Speedo’s ecommerce team got busy figuring out what analytics capabilities they wanted. They were looking for a solution that “would let us go to another level of thinking, beyond looking at visitors and traffic. We wanted to really understand the customer, how they behave, how they think and how they liked to be interacted with, so that we could optimize marketing, retention and recruitment,” according to Beer. The company also wanted the flexibility to gather and analyze new sources of information as requirements evolved.

After investigating different solutions, Speedo International selected IBM’s Coremetrics for several reasons. First, Coremetrics was available as subscription-based cloud service, and pre-integrated with WebSphere Commerce, which meant that Speedo didn’t need to spend time on technical implementation and integration.

More important, Beer advised us, was that “all the data is in one place and we have a common interface across the 12 Coremetrics modules we use. Other vendors have similar tools, but with Coremetrics, we get the different capabilities we need, from measuring the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns to creating personalized interactions with top customers.

Create a Virtuous Cycle

Some of the many ways Speedo uses Coremetrics are to:

  • Track KPIs for sales, orders, visitors, stock and margins, and its consumer index score, which rates customer experience with Speedo.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns and retargeting efforts.
  • Get a clear view of who the customer is, how they behave, and how they like to be spoken to.
  • Set and meet service level agreements to pick, pack and dispatch orders.

As a result, Beer’s team can deliver feedback to business decision makers more rapidly. “We can quickly pick up on trends, what’s working, what’s not, what colors and styles people like or don’t like. Then the business can make better commercial decisions faster,” Beer told us.

Using the Coremetrics Lifecycle module, Speedo also gains a complete view of its top customers, which enables it to do things such as offer more personal attention and rewards, and encourage them to post more ratings and reviews. In turn, this gives Speedo more data to feed back to the business, turn top customers into advocates, and generate more business.

Speedo International has held fast to its pledge not to compete with its retailers on price. However, about 15% of Speedo’s customers pay a premium to buy on the Speedo site. Speedo’s research indicates that these customers buy on direct because of the exceptional customer service experience that Speedo delivers–facilitated to a large extent by WebSphere Commerce and Coremetrics.

A Work in Progress

Speedo International launched a Facebook page about 18 months ago. It uses Coremetrics to make sure that Facebook information jives with information on its estore, and to track how many people go to the estore from Facebook. Speedo can append Facebook images, URLs, etc. with tags which feed into Coremetrics. Using these tags, Speedo can also create special product offers, or have people vote on colors on Facebook, and see how many people come to the estore as a result of these campaigns.

One of the most compelling parts of Speedo’s strategy that Beer discussed with us is to “put any Speedo store on top of WebSphere Commerce, and have one place underneath as a common foundation for all stock and inventory management.” In 2012, Speedo plans to launch a new Facebook store, a new mobile store and create stores in key European countries with localized content, currency and language. The unified WebSphere Commerce foundation will ensure consistency and continuity of the customer shopping experience across these different sites.

Summing Up

Beer summed up his perspective by saying “the business is all about the customer. We need to be in as many channels as customers are in and align them as closely as we can–whether the customer is on smart phone, iPad or in a brick and mortar store. The goal is to have consistency and visibility across these channels and heighten our understanding of the customer.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

This is the fifth of a six-part series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. 


What Can We Learn From This Year’s Holiday Season?

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the fourth post in the series.

Christmas 2011 is a great example of Smarter Commerce in action.  It’s a lesson in why businesses need to transform the way they market and sell their products and services.  According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for the 2011 holiday season increased 4.1 percent year-over-year to $471.5 billion, beating its expectation of 3.8 percent growth.  And while the overall numbers probably made for a pleasant holiday for the industry as a whole, what was happening online was astounding:

  • US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 – a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
  • A post-holiday 2011 retail study from Kabbage, Inc. focusing on small-to-medium online merchants found 69% of respondents reporting increased sales. On average, study participants experienced a 32% hike in sales compared to the 2010 season.
  • As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn’t even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
  • 93% of retailers have offered free shipping at some point during the season vs. 85% last year. (USA Today)
  • The 2011 US Holiday Season edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index of the top forty Internet retailers increased by a point from 78 to 79 (on a scale of 1-100)
  • Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
  • The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

Technology’s Impact on Behavior Is Accelerating

The world is changing.  While still a fraction of the overall sales figures, ecommerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail.  And not just for the big retailers.  As the Kabbage study illustrates, small and midsize online retailers enjoyed tremendous growth as well.  This in part stems from the effect technology is having on the customer buying process, and the ability of companies to adapt their business processes to support online shopping.

When you think about twenty-five percent of shoppers not starting their Christmas shopping until after December 18th, it really hits home how the process of shopping has changed.  Five to ten years ago most people still were going to multiple stores in search of ideas for things to buy, to find recommendations, compare items, and to look for deals, so they had to start their shopping efforts earlier.  Now they can do most of that online – with a lot less time involved.  And from the online retailer’s perspective, they leverage the latest technology not only to provide this information to online shoppers, but also to deliver the goods on time as well.  Jewelry specialist Blue Nile offered free FedEx shipping guaranteed to arrive by Saturday, December 24, for all orders placed as late as 7 p.m. the day before (Friday, December 23). And other online retailers offered similar shipping capabilities.

This all adds up to shoppers more efficiently finding what they want, knowing the price they want to pay and having the confidence of getting it in time – with the added benefit of not having to wrestle with issues like parking, crowded malls, weather etc..  And as both companies and consumers accelerate their technology adoption, look for ecommerce to steadily increase its portion of the retail pie while customers leverage social and mobile to decrease the time and effort it takes to buy things.

Technology’s Impact on Behavior is Dramatically Affecting Expectations

One of the more interesting developments is how technology is impacting customer expectations as well as their behavior.  Now that companies like Amazon can get items to us in two days for free, we expect this kind of service all the time.  And while 93% of them did offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, a study also showed 73% of consumers recently surveyed by MarketLive named “free returns” as a top promotion in determining their online purchasing behavior.

This is a great example of customers understanding what technology can do, and expecting vendors to find ways to leverage it to continuously improve their shopping experience.  And improving the experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied.  According to the ForeSee study, satisfaction scores are important because a one-point change in website satisfaction can predict a 14% change in revenues generated on the web.  And when they were highly satisfied with a purchase:

-   64% of survey responders said they were more likely to buy from the same company the next time they needed a similar product;

-   67% were more inclined to recommend the company to others; and

-   65% felt a sense of ‘brand commitment’.

This illustrates that investing in improving customers’ web experience is a terrific way to build brand loyalty and capture the benefits of viral marketing (or something like this).

A Christmas Carol…

You really don’t have to look much further than Christmas Day 2011 to see how technology has changed customer behaviors and expectations.  Digital content & subscriptions (digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books and apps) accounted for more than 20 percent of sales on Christmas Day. On any other day of the holiday season, that number was only 2.8%.  And these numbers were driven by the rise of mobile devices, with the iPad leading the way on Christmas Day with a staggering 7% of all online sales coming through just that one device – accounting for 50% of sales that day, according to the IBM Coremetrics Benchmark.

While the numbers tell the story, it really hits home personally when I saw my parents (both octogenarians) sitting at the kitchen table Christmas Day  – my father with his iPad, and my mother with her Kindle Fire.  And my mother, having received the Fire as a gift, was reading an ebook she purchased Christmas morning… with an Amazon gift card.

This is a totally different story of Christmas than Charles Dickens told in the 19th century, but it’s a tale of what to expect in the 21st century when it comes to customer engagement.  Because of technology and its empowering effect on customers, they are developing “great expectations” their vendors must live up to.  Which means vendors must be smarter in their approach to smarter, more informed customers.

This is the fourth of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points to consider when planning a smarter commerce strategy. In our next post, we’ll look at IBM’s Smarter Commerce offerings to help illustrate how midsize companies can reshape the way they do business to meet the expectations and needs of smarter customers.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,058 other followers